Who Hasn’t Paid For A Clarence Thomas Vacation?

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

August 9, 2023

“Good Lord, Who Among Us Hasn’t Paid For A Clarence Thomas Vacation?” David Kurtz of Talking Points Memo asked this morning. Kurtz was reacting to a new piece by Brett Murphy and Alex Mierjeski in ProPublica detailing Justice Thomas’s leisure activities and the benefactors who underwrote them. 

Those activities include “[a]t least 38 destination vacations, including a previously unreported voyage on a yacht around the Bahamas; 26 private jet flights, plus an additional eight by helicopter; a dozen VIP passes to professional and college sporting events, typically perched in the skybox; two stays at luxury resorts in Florida and Jamaica; and one standing invitation to an uber-exclusive golf club overlooking the Atlantic coast.”

The authors add that this “is almost certainly an undercount.”Thomas did not disclose these gifts, as ethics specialists say he should have done. House Democrats Ted Lieu (D-CA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), and Hank Johnson (D-GA) have said Thomas must resign.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who has led the effort to extricate the Supreme Court from very wealthy interests for years, commented: “I said it would get worse; it will keep getting worse.

”Thomas’s benefactors, Murphy and Mierjeski noted, “share the ideology that drives his jurisprudence.” That ideology made Trump lawyer Kenneth Chesebro, who has been in the news for the release of his December 6, 2020, memo outlining how to steal the 2020 presidential election, speculate that Thomas was the Supreme Court justice the plotters could count on to back their coup.

“Realistically,” Chesebro wrote to lawyer John Eastman, “our only chance to get a favorable judicial opinion by Jan. 6, which might hold up the Georgia count in Congress, is from Thomas—do you agree, Prof. Eastman?” Last Saturday, Republican leaders in Alabama illustrated that their ideology means they reject democracy.

After the Supreme Court agreed that the congressional districting map lawmakers put in place after the 2020 census probably violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a lower court ruling that required a new map went into effect. But Alabama Republican lawmakers simply refused. Alexander Willis of the Alabama Daily News reported that at a meeting of the Alabama state Republican Party on Saturday, the party’s legal counsel David Bowsher applauded the lawmakers, saying, “House Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy doesn’t have that big a margin, that costs him one seat right there. I can’t tell you we’re going to win in this fight; we’ve got a Supreme Court that surprised the living daylights out of me when they handed down this decision, but I can guarantee you, if the Legislature hadn’t done that, we lose.”

Paul Reynolds, the national committeeman of the party, went on: “Let me scare you a little bit more; Texas has between five and ten congressmen that are Republicans that could shift the other way,” he continued. “How could we win the House back ever again if we’re talking about losing two in Louisiana, and losing five to ten in Texas? The answer’s simple: It’s never.”

Alabama attorney general Steve Marshall added: “Let’s make it clear, we elect a Legislature to reflect the values of the people that they represent, and I don’t think anybody in this room wanted this Legislature to adopt two districts that were going to guarantee that two Democrats would be elected…. What we believe fully is that we just live in a red state with conservative people, and that’s who the candidates of Alabama want to be able to elect going forward.”

The determination of Republican officials to hold onto power even though they appear to know they are in a minority is part of what drove even Republican voters in Ohio to reject their proposal to require 60% of voters, rather than a simple majority, to approve changes in the state constitution. Meanwhile, today’s July consumer price index report showed that annual inflation has fallen by about two thirds since last summer, a better-than-expected number suggesting that measures to cool the economy are working without hurting the economy. Real wages have outpaced inflation for the last five months, and unemployment is at a low the U.S. hasn’t seen since 1969. 

At the same time, the country is ending one of the last pieces of the social safety net put in place during Covid: the rule that people on Medicaid could remain covered without renewing their coverage each year. That rule ended in April, and states are purging their Medicaid rolls of those who they say no longer qualify. In the last three months, 4 million people have lost their Medicaid coverage, mostly because of paperwork problems. (Texas dropped an eye-popping 52% of beneficiaries due for renewal in May.) 

Biden officials have tried to pressure states quietly to fix the errors—including long waits to get phone calls answered and slow processing of applications, as well as paperwork errors—but yesterday released letters it had sent to individual states to warn them they might be violating federal law. Thirty-six states did not meet federal requirements.

President Biden calls white supremacy “the most dangerous terrorist threat to our homeland.”

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

May 16, 2023

On Saturday, May 13th, President Joe Biden spoke to the graduating class at Howard University, a historically Black university in Washington, D.C. In his speech about “excellence, leadership, and truth and service,” Biden singled out white supremacy “as the most dangerous terrorist threat to our homeland.”

Biden called for Americans to reject political extremism and violence, and to protect fundamental rights and freedoms for women to choose and for transgender children to be free. He called for affordable healthcare and housing and the right to raise your family and retire with dignity. He urged the graduates to “stand with leaders of your generation who give voice to the people, demanding action on gun violence,” and to stand “against books being banned and Black history being erased…. To stand up for the best in us.”

While Biden based his remarks on former president Trump’s declaration after the August 2017 Unite the Right Rally that “there are very fine people on both sides,” there were plenty of examples from just this week that he could have used.

Last night, Hunter Walker of Talking Points Memo broke the story that the digital director for right-wing representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) appears to be Wade Searle, a devoted follower of white supremacist leader Nick Fuentes. Fuentes has openly embraced Nazism and Russian president Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism, and he is one of those to whom the alt-right Groypers look up.

Although Fuentes calls the Groypers “Christian conservatives,” historian of the far right in the U.S. Nicole Hemmer told Walker: “The Groypers are essentially the equivalent of neo-Nazis…. They are attached to violent events like Jan. 6. Nick Fuentes, as sort of the organizer of the Groypers, expresses Holocaust denialism, white supremacy, white nationalism, pretty strong anti-women bigotry, he calls for a kind of return to Twelfth Century Catholicism. They’re an extremist group that is OK with violence.”

Walker has also identified an intern in Gosar’s office as another Fuentes follower.

A February study by the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts independent research on religion, culture, and public policy, found that the so-called Christian nationalism at the heart of those like Fuentes is closely linked with a willingness to commit violence to make the U.S. a white Christian nation. The PRRI poll showed that nearly 20% of those who sympathize with Christian nationalism agreed they were “willing to fight” to take the nation back to what they incorrectly believe it always was.

Maria Cramer of the New York Times noted yesterday that while no one actually knows much about Daniel Penny, a white man who was recently charged with choking Jordan Neely, a homeless Black man, to death on a subway in New York, right-wing politicians and supporters have rallied around Penny. They seem to see him as a symbol of a powerful man who took matters into his own hands to restore order—although the events that led to the choking are still unclear—much as they lionized Kyle Rittenhouse after he killed two people and wounded another at a Black Lives Matter rally in 2020. Florida governor Ron DeSantis tweeted: “We must defeat the Soros-Funded DAs, stop the Left’s pro-criminal agenda, and take back the streets for law abiding citizens.”

Historian Thomas Zimmer explained the danger: “All strands of the Right—leading Republicans, the media machine, the reactionary intellectual sphere, the conservative base, the donor class—are openly and aggressively embracing rightwing vigilante violence,” he wrote. “This sends a clear message: It encourages white militants to use whatever force they please to “fight back” against anything and anyone associated with ‘the Left’ by protecting and glorifying those who have engaged in vigilante violence—call it the Kyle Rittenhouse dogma.”

In Washington this weekend, about 150 masked members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front marched toward the U.S. Capitol, chanting, “life, liberty, victory.”

Professor of journalism at New York University Jay Rosen noted on MSNBC on May 11, the day after CNN gave Trump the space to hold what amounted to a political rally, that journalists could better cover this moment in our history by focusing not on the horse race strategy, but on the consequences for the country if Trump wins again. How will American life change? Who will benefit? Who will suffer? He says the question should be “not the odds, but the stakes” as a principle for better campaign coverage.

A lawsuit filed today in New York by Noelle Dunphy, a woman who says Trump ally Rudy Giuliani hired her in January 2019 to manage his media presence, documents the sordid world she observed in her two years working for Giuliani. He promised her a salary of $1 million a year but said he couldn’t pay her until his divorce was final and, ultimately, paid her only small amounts of cash. In her account, he seemed to become obsessed with her, forcing her into sex and trying to dominate her. She is suing Giuliani, his companies, and 10 unidentified individuals over “unlawful abuses of power, wide-ranging sexual assault and harassment, wage theft, and other misconduct” and is asking for $10 million in compensation and damages.

The story of her time with Giuliani, whom she describes as a chronically alcoholic sexual abuser prone to racist and sexist outbursts, is bad enough—and she claims to have recordings—but her other allegations are politically incendiary. She claims to have heard Giuliani say that he was selling presidential pardons for $2 million a pop, splitting the proceeds with Trump, and that Giuliani told her on February 7, 2019, “about a plan that had been prepared for if Trump lost the 2020 election.” Specifically, Giuliani told Ms. Dunphy that Trump’s team would claim that there was ‘voter fraud’ and that Trump had actually won the election…. That same day, Giuliani had Ms. Dunphy sit in on a speakerphone conversation about a potential business opportunity involving a $72 billion dollar gas deal in China.”

Also of note is her claim that, since part of her job was managing emails, Giuliani gave her access to his email account. The system stored at least 23,000 emails on her own personal computer, including “privileged, confidential, and highly sensitive” emails from, to, or concerning Trump, his children Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump; Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner; Trump’s lawyers and advisors; media figures including Rupert Murdoch, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson; and so on.

There are a number of stories in the news today that wrap up long-standing issues. John Durham, the special counsel picked by Trump loyalist attorney general William Barr to undermine the FBI investigation into whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election, released a report today finding fault with the categorization of the FBI’s initial investigation into the Russia attempt to swing the 2016 election to Trump.

Representative George Santos (R-NY) has pleaded guilty to charges of theft in Brazil, but insists he is not guilty of the federal charges against him for financial crimes. He says he will not resign from Congress.

As predicted by everyone who correctly attributed the high cost of eggs late last year to the deadly avian flu and price gouging, there are now so many eggs on the market that the wholesale price is $0.94 a dozen, down from $5.46 a dozen six months ago.

The number of migrants at the southern border has dropped 50% since the end of the pandemic restriction known as Title 42 on May 11.

And finally, Representative James Comer (R-KY), chair of the House Oversight Committee, yesterday told Fox News Channel personality Maria Bartiromo that the committee has lost track of a top witness to alleged wrongdoing by the Biden family. “Well, unfortunately, we can’t track down the informant,” Comer said. “We’re hopeful that the informant is still there. The whistleblower knows the informant. The whistleblower is very credible.”

600+ convictions for the events of January 6th. What comes next for Merrick Garland and Donald Trump?

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

May 4, 2023

Today began with another story about yet more ties between Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas and Republican billionaire Harlan Crow. Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski of ProPublica reported that Crow paid the private school tuition for Thomas’s grandnephew, to the tune of more than $6,000 a month, ultimately adding up to an amount that may have been more than $150,000. Thomas did not report the payments.

Then news broke that a jury in Washington, D.C., found four members of the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys—Enrique Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl—guilty of seditious conspiracy for their participation in the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. A fifth defendant, Dominic Pezzola, was found not guilty of seditious conspiracy but, like the others, was found guilty of other serious charges including obstructing Congress’s certification of the 2020 presidential election results and conspiring to prevent Congress and federal officers from discharging their duties.

In a statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland noted that the Department of Justice has secured more than 600 convictions for criminal conduct surrounding the events of January 6, including fourteen “leaders of both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers for seditious conspiracy—specifically conspiring to oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power. Our work will continue,” he said.

It is unlikely that Garland’s statement about ongoing work was casual.

Defense attorneys for the Proud Boys emphasized that their clients believed then-president Trump—who, after all, had told them in September 2020 to “stand back and stand by”—had called them to Washington to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Although there were no explicit orders to attack the Capitol, members of the Proud Boys testified that they believed there was an implicit agreement to prevent Biden from becoming president.

Tarrio, convicted today, was not at the Capitol during the attack, but a jury convicted him of seditious conspiracy nonetheless, suggesting that leaders who incited the violence can be found guilty, even if they weren’t present.

Today attorneys for E. Jean Carroll, who is suing the former president in a civil trial for battery and defamation connected with his alleged rape of her, rested their case. So did Trump’s lawyers, but District Judge Lewis Kaplan gave Trump the weekend to rethink testifying. “He has a right to testify which has been waived but if he has second thoughts, I’ll at least consider it and maybe we’ll see what happens,” Kaplan said.

Other investigations of the former president continue. The New York Times today broke the story that prosecutors in the office of Special Counsel Jack Smith investigating the storage of classified documents are talking to a confidential witness who worked for Trump at Mar-a-Lago. There are questions about whether Trump deliberately moved boxes containing documents in order to hide them from the Justice Department.

Meanwhile, the debt ceiling crisis has not gone away. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines today told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on global threats that a U.S. default on our debts would enable both Russia and China to say “such an event [demonstrates] the chaos within the United States, that we’re not capable of functioning as a democracy, and the governance issues associated with it.” She explained: “It would be…almost a certainty that they would look to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Moody’s Analytics has weighed in on the economic effects of House speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) plan, noting that with a clean debt limit increase, real gross domestic product is expected to grow 2.25% this year. Under McCarthy’s plan, that growth will be 1.6%. “The significant government spending cuts in the [plan] are substantial headwinds to near-term economic growth,” it wrote. “Adding to the economic headwinds created by the legislation is the considerable uncertainty created by having to address the debt limit again a year from now.”

Weirdly, Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) at a Senate Budget Committee hearing today blamed Democrats for not raising the debt ceiling themselves last year without help from the Republicans. Kate Riga of Talking Points Memo broke down this argument. If the Democrats had raised the debt ceiling through reconciliation, without Republican votes, Republicans would have insisted that it was the Democrats, not them, who had burdened the country with debt when, in fact, the Republicans added almost $8 trillion to the debt under Trump.

Romney’s complaint amounts to berating the responsible Democrats for not protecting the country against the Republicans, who are willing to burn down the country. As Riga put it: “Darn you Democrats for not taking care of the debt ceiling then, because you knew we’d refuse to raise the limit unless you conceded to our demands, and look what a sticky spot we’re in now.”

Meanwhile, the editorial board of the Fresno Bee, from McCarthy’s district, today called out the speaker for approving the huge increases of the Trump years and, now that a Democrat is in the White House, insisting on drastic cuts. The board reiterated that the debt ceiling and the budget are separate issues. “McCarthy is pandering to the hard-right members who only backed him for House speaker on the 15th vote in exchange for concessions on the issues like the debt,” it said. “Speaker McCarthy, don’t take America to the brink of default. Stop the posturing, raise the debt ceiling, then have the honest budget debate the nation needs.”

Finally, the day ended where it began, with another scandal involving Justice Clarence Thomas.

This evening, Emma Brown, Shawn Boburg, and Jonathan O’Connell of the Washington Post broke the story that right-wing judicial activist Leonard Leo, who as a leader of the Federalist Society that backs originalist judges has been key to transforming the federal judiciary, a decade ago arranged for payments of tens of thousands of dollars to Thomas’s wife Ginni. Leo and Thomas are close friends.

In January 2012, Leo told Kellyanne Conway, who was then a Republican pollster, to bill the Judicial Education Project, a nonprofit organization with which he was associated, and then pass the money on to Ginni Thomas. He told Conway to “give” Thomas “another $25K,” and emphasized that she should include “No mention of Ginni, of course,” in the paperwork. She did so. Later that year, the Judicial Education Project filed a brief before the court in the landmark Shelby County v. Holder case, in which the court, by a vote of 5–4, gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Thomas voted on the side of the Judicial Education Project.

And this is the profound national crisis at the heart of the stories emerging about Thomas. His votes were decisive not only in Shelby County v. Holder, but also in the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, also decided by a vote of 5–4, which opened the floodgates for dark money in political campaigns. Those decisions dramatically undermined our democracy. It now seems imperative to grapple with the fact it appears a key vote on the court that decided those cases was compromised.

GOP embraces replacing democracy with white Christian nationalism

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

April 17, 2023

House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was in New York City today, trying to calm jitters among investors by explaining to members of the New York Stock Exchange that the Republicans will not allow the government to default on its debts even as he insisted that the Republican Party must use the debt ceiling to enact legislative policies it can’t win through normal political negotiations.

The debt ceiling is an artificial limit to how much the Treasury can borrow to pay existing obligations to which Congress has already committed. It has nothing to do with future spending, which is hammered out in budget negotiations. 

But McCarthy has not offered a budget proposal because the Republican conference cannot agree on one. Yesterday, for example, McCarthy floated the idea of cuts to food assistance for millions of low-income Americans, which Senate Republicans want no part of. Unlike House members, many of whom represent such gerrymandered districts they feel insulated from any backlash to extreme proposals, Senators run at-large. For them, cutting food support while backing tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations would be politically dangerous.

Instead, McCarthy is trying to use the threat of national default to extract the cuts extremist members of his conference want. The Biden administration has made it clear that it will not negotiate over paying the nation’s bills, especially since about a quarter of the debt was accumulated under former president Trump, $2 trillion of it thanks to tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. In those years, Congress raised the debt ceiling three times. Biden presented his own long, detailed budget, full of his own priorities, as a start to negotiations in March, and he says he is eager to sit down and hammer out the budget once McCarthy produces his own plan. McCarthy is trying to deflect from his inability to do that but is confusing the issue, suggesting that he has the right to negotiate instead over whether or not to pay our bills. 

Since defaulting, or even approaching default, would devastate both the U.S. and the global economy, not even all Republicans back McCarthy’s threats. When Sara Eisen of CNBC asked McCarthy if he had the support of his party for what he is proposing, McCarthy answered, “I think I have the support of America,” and that he would “get the party behind it.” 

Meanwhile, when asked about a potential default, Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told Tony Romm of the Washington Post, “It will be financial chaos…. Our fiscal problems will be meaningfully worse.… Our geopolitical standing in the world will be undermined.”

Today, McCarthy offered to kick the can down the road by a year, raising the debt ceiling so long as the Democrats agree to cuts that he described only vaguely. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) rejected this idea out of hand, saying: “If Speaker McCarthy continues in this direction, we are headed to default.” Schumer reiterated that the Democrats will be happy to negotiate with McCarthy over the budget when he can produce a detailed plan that can get the 218 votes it needs to pass the House. He noted that McCarthy’s vague proposals are “a recycled pile of the same things he’s been saying for months, none of which has moved the ball forward an inch.” 

In part, McCarthy’s problem is that many of the members of his conference are in the majority for the first time. They are discovering that it is much easier to say no when opponents are in charge than it is to hammer coalitions together to advance realistic legislation. In the New York Times today, editorial board member Michelle Cottle called many of the current House Republicans “chaos monkeys” but noted that it is McCarthy’s fault that he gave them so much power by promising things he can’t deliver—like refusing to hike the debt ceiling without cuts—and by putting them at the head of important committees.

Ohio representative Jim Jordan, for example, sits at the head of the Judiciary Committee, as well as the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, and his investigations so far have not produced the results he promised the Republican base. As Jesse Watters of the Fox News Channel put it last month: “Make me feel better, guys. Tell me this is going somewhere. Can I throw someone in prison? Can someone go to jail? Can someone get fined?”

Instead, Democrats on the committees have met Jordan’s wild rapid-fire accusations with facts that show the difference between unchallenged myth-making on right-wing media and actual governance. Today, at Jordan’s insistence, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing in New York City, a venue Jordan suggested was chosen to highlight how the policies of Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg had exacerbated violent crime, although in reality, Jordan’s attacks on Bragg for investigating former president Trump started even before Trump’s indictment in that jurisdiction.  

Jordan set out to argue that Bragg was neglecting violent crime in New York City only to have Democrats point out that New York City is “not only safer than most large cities in America, it is safer than most cities of any size, and on a per capita basis, New York City is safer than most of the states of the members sitting…on the majority side,” as Jim Kessler, the co-founder and senior vice president for policy for Third Way, explained. Indeed, in 2020, Ohio’s murder rate was higher than the rate in New York City. Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) asked Jordan if the hearing could be moved to Ohio.

If one part of McCarthy’s problem is his extremist colleagues, another is that his argument is out of date. In what Catie Edmondson and Jim Tankersley of the New York Times called “a speech that was sprinkled with misleading statements and erroneous assertions,” McCarthy told the Wall Street executives, “We’re seeing in real time the effects of reckless government spending: record inflation and the hardship it causes….”

In reality, the inflation that plagued the U.S. as it reopened from the worst days of the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed dramatically, making it clear that the policies of the Biden administration are working. As Jennifer Rubin noted yesterday in the Washington Post, the annual inflation rate for producers is 2.7%—the lowest rate in more than two years—while consumer price increases are at their lowest point since May 2021: 5%. Gasoline prices have dropped 17.4% since the high prices that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The overall declines mark nine months of slowing inflation. 

At the same time, labor force participation is at record high levels and unemployment is at a 50-year low of 3.5%. Black unemployment, which stands at 5%, has never been lower.  Real incomes—that is, incomes after inflation is factored in—have risen 7% for those making $35,000 a year or less and 1.3% across the whole economy. Meanwhile, the deficit has dropped more than $1.7 trillion in two years.  

The successes of Biden’s policies would seem worth considering in negotiations, but as Sarah Longwell noted in Bulwark+ today, the Republican Party has abandoned normal democratic politics. She notes that it is a mistake to look at the Trump years as a wild period from which the party will return to normality. Instead, she notes, “You have to think of Trump’s election as year zero” because “Republican voters say they don’t want any part of a Republican party that looks anything like it did before 2016.”

Trump’s administration was a culmination of forty years of Republican attempts to get rid of taxes and regulations by insisting that anyone calling for business regulation and a basic social safety net was a socialist who wanted to redistribute tax dollars from hardworking white men to minorities and women. But the racism, sexism, and religion in that formula used to be the quieter undertones of the call for small government. Now, though, the party is openly embracing the replacement of democracy with a strong government that would make white Christian nationalism the law of the land.  

In illustration of that position, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who has used the government to impose a Christian agenda on his state, today continued his crusade against the Walt Disney Company. A year ago, angry that then–chief executive officer Bob Chapek opposed his measure limiting discussion of gender identity in public school classrooms, DeSantis tried to take control of the company’s special self-governing district through a new board. Shortly before the takeover, Disney CEO Bob Iger outfoxed DeSantis by legally changing the terms of the agreement under which it has operated for decades, limiting the power of the board in perpetuity.

After Trump officials mocked him for being beaten by Mickey Mouse, DeSantis today suggested he is determined to use the power of the government to force Disney, a private company, to bend to his authority. He threatened to build a rival amusement park or a state prison on land next to Disney’s Florida park. 

Disney promptly responded by advertising a “first-ever Disneyland After Dark” LGBTQIA+ themed event night at its California Disneyland resort, and former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele tweeted: “When families stop visiting & Disney’s $75.2B economic impact & $5.8B tax revenues drop; its 75K employees face layoffs & 463K jobs are also imperiled what would your analytics say caused that to happen? WTF, Dumbo.”

Clarence Thomas’ relationship with ‘right-wing megadonor’ Harlan Crow

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

April 7, 2023

This Friday night’s news dump is a biggie: Texas judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, an antiabortion Trump appointee, has ruled that the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the drug mifepristone in 2000 was flawed and must be suspended. In the 23 years since its approval, the drug has been widely proved to be safe, and this is the first time a court has ordered the FDA to remove a drug from the market. 

Mifepristone is used to induce abortions as well as for other medical applications. Although the Supreme Court argued last year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, that getting rid of Roe would enable states to make their own decisions about abortion, Kacsmaryk’s decision would remove mifepristone across the entire United States. Mifepristone accounts for about 53% of medically induced abortions. 

Vice President Kamala Harris, who has led the administration’s policy on reproductive rights, noted that Kacsmaryk’s decision does not simply impact abortion: it opens the door to politicizing chemotherapy drugs, asthma medicine, blood pressure pills, insulin, and so on.

Kacsmaryk also said that mailing mifepristone across state lines is illegal based on the Comstock Act, which Congress passed in 1873, making it illegal to send contraceptive materials through the mail. He went further than that, though, going far beyond the Dobbs decision to embrace the concept that a fertilized egg is an “unborn human” from the time of conception. 

He stayed the ruling for a week to give the government time to respond.

President Joe Biden vowed to fight the ruling. He noted that the Department of Justice has already filed an appeal and will seek an immediate stay. “But let’s be clear,” he wrote, “the only way to stop those who are committed to taking away women’s rights and freedoms in every state is to elect a Congress who will pass a law restoring Roe versus Wade.  Vice President Harris and I will continue to lead the fight to protect a woman’s right to an abortion, and to make her own decisions about her own health.  That is our commitment.”

Less than an hour after Kacsmaryk’s ruling, federal judge Thomas O. Rice in Washington state issued an injunction prohibiting the FDA from pulling mifepristone from the market. 

With two opposing rulings in place, the case will go quickly to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

But the Supreme Court has its own issues right now. Today, Justice Clarence Thomas released a statement saying that he did not disclose the lavish gifts he received from right-wing megadonor Harlan Crow on the advice of “colleagues and others in the judiciary,” but he did not say who those individuals were. He says he will comply with new regulations in the future.

Thomas said that he and his wife Ginni had been dear friends of the Crows for over 25 years, but he joined the court over 30 years ago, making more than one commenter note that the friendship certainly seemed to be based on Crow’s access to the Supreme Court through Thomas. In 2011, Ian Millhiser, then of ThinkProgress, noted that Thomas sided with the American Enterprise Institute and the Center for the Community Interest, both of which were affiliated with Crow, in every case concerning them that had come before the Supreme Court.  

A couple of other stories before I call it quits tonight: 

The Internal Revenue Service yesterday explained how it intends to use the $80 billion appropriated for it by the Inflation Reduction Act. After a decade of budget cuts, audit and enforcement rates on taxpayers earning $1 million or more annually had dropped significantly, from 7.2% in 2011 to just 0.7% in 2019. The IRS will focus on restoring those audits.

It will also look at allowing taxpayers to file directly with the government system for free, as taxpayers in other countries do. This plan has the lobbyists who work for tax preparers fighting back out of fear such a free system will cripple their businesses. They are joining with Republicans to complain that such a system will give the government too much information about individual taxpayers. 

Today’s jobs report for March showed continuing job growth as unemployment fell to 3.5% and the economy added another 236,000 jobs. Unemployment among Black Americans is at a historic low of 5%. While jobs are still being added, they are increasing at a slower rate than they have been. Wage increases are also slowing, which reinforces the idea that inflation will continue to ease and perhaps lead the Federal Reserve to slow down on the interest rate hikes that cool the economy. 

In a statement, President Biden noted the good jobs news and reminded people that the government is investing in infrastructure, innovation, and clean energy to build the economy for the long term. But, he warned, “[e]xtreme MAGA Republicans in Congress…are threatening to wreak havoc on our economy with debt limit brinkmanship. Their extreme agenda would send the unprecedented investments we’ve made here in America—along with the jobs that come with it—overseas. And it’s all to pay for even more giveaways to the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations.” He promised to stop them from moving the country backward.

Today, Vice President Harris traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, where she met with the state Democratic caucus and with the two young Black legislators, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, whose colleagues expelled them from the state legislature yesterday. While in Nashville, she spoke at historically Black Fisk University to call for gun safety legislation and condemn the expulsion of the Democratic lawmakers.